Porter Ranch Blackouts Loom For Southern California Residents

Porter Ranch blackouts in Southern California are expected to be up to 14 days this summer as a result of low reserves in natural gas directly impacted by a large leak in Aliso Canyon.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the canyon above Porter Ranch is the site of a gas storage facility that supplies 17 power plants around the Los Angeles basin. A leak began last October, and now the facility is at one-fifth of its operating capacity. New injections of gas cannot be added until all of its wells have passed strict testing. There are 114 remaining wells, and none of them have passed the required tests so far.

It is estimated by officials that the storage facility will not be back in working order for months, thus leaving local power plants without a main source of natural gas.

“These pipelines also cannot transport gas fast enough to meet the hour-by-hour or changing demands of power plants during the summer when electricity demand peaks,” said Mark Rothleder, the vice president of the California Independent System Operator.

The millions of energy consumers who could be affected in the Porter Ranch blackouts reside in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties.

Southern California residents could also face an additional eight to 18 days of outages later this year. This information is based off a notice released on Tuesday by the California Independent System Operator, California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The Porter Ranch blackouts are being likened to the ones that the region endured during the energy crisis more than 10 years ago. Utilities arranged the timing of outages by shutting off one block of power for a short period of time before moving the cutoff to a different block.

In an effort to reduce the potential for blackouts, the four agencies have come up with an action plan that has 18 recommendations. The plans are pending regulatory approval for some of the recommendations while others on the list will be more costly.

A common sense approach to the plan is asking customers to conserve gas and electricity. They advise doing this by turning down water heater temperatures, taking shorter showers, using air conditioners as little as possible, and shutting off gas-powered barbecue grills.

Aliso Canyon provides gas to 11 million people in the region. When the natural gas leak began four months ago, many in the area reported getting headaches and nosebleeds.

“No one wants blackouts — not even the folks living in Porter Ranch — but the Aliso Canyon storage facility is not fit to operate until those wells are deemed safe,” said Paula Cracium, the president of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council. “There is no way to know whether or not there is another leak just waiting to devastate the community again.”

Regulators and the utility industry has chastised the report for playing to consumers’ fears.

Bill Powers, of Powers Engineering in San Diego, emphatically says that the concerns about the blackouts are sending out a false alarm, because the utility’s pipeline system has not exceeded its capacity of 3.8 billion cubic feet per day during summer in the last 10 years.

“It is crying wolf for state agencies to be implying blackouts from a lack of gas, especially from a lack of gas in the summer time,” Powers said.

The Public Utilities Commission will analyze spending and see how they can handle tentative shortages. Utilities cannot pass those costs on to customers without the PUC’s approval of a rate increase.

The City of Los Angeles is set to announce rebates and other programs within the next few weeks to encourage commercial and residential customers to save energy, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

“We can all help get through this tough period by conserving energy, making our buildings more efficient and taking other actions that reduce our use of electricity and natural gas,” Garcetti said in a statement regarding the Porter Ranch blackouts.

[Image via Jorg Hackermann/Shutterstock]